Extra Produce. Read All About It.

One thing that I wanted to address this year before the season got going is how we at the farm make decisions about selling extra produce to our members. Last year I had a member ask how could something be ‘extra’ when we all paid for a share of the farm’s produce. It’s not an unreasonable question, but I didn’t have the time or mental space then to dedicate to answering it properly. I will attempt to do so now. First, a bit about our farm’s revenue sources: We are, and always have been, primarily a CSA farm. Currently about 90% of our revenue is from member share payments. The other 10% is made up of syrup and honey sales, sales of things we purchase (like blueberries) and some wholesale produce sales. Less than 1% is sales of our produce to our members as extras. The wholesale sales are to Angelica’s Garden in Elmwood, WI, who contracts with us to grow cabbage and beets for her sauerkraut, kimchee and pickled beets. You can find her products in most of the co-ops.
There are several reasons why we might offer something to our members for sale as extras:
  • We planted some extra specifically for this purpose because members have requested it; bulk carrots, garlic, canning tomatoes, etc.
  • We feel that we have more than we can reasonably put in the share; again carrots, squash
  • We have an odd amount; trial varieties where we may have small quantities, remnants of plantings we’ve already harvested
  • Odd sizes or #2 quality; large zucchini, funky carrots, things that don’t meet our quality standards
Those of you who have been members a while know that we don’t do very much of this. I wish we could do more, but logistically it is overly complicated to sell 12 giant zucchinis, it’s much easier to throw them on the compost pile or to the chickens. I’ll take a moment to elaborate on each of these reasons.

For several years we’ve been offering bulk carrots to our members because they’ve requested them. Consequently we have grown our fall carrot plantings to accommodate this demand. When I sit down and do my planning in the winter I plan for several weeks of carrots for the regular season shares and 20 pounds of carrots for each winter share. We don’t sell any extra carrots usually until late September when we’ve harvested the storage crops and can look at the numbers and decide what we have beyond what we need for the winter shares. Even if I wanted to put more than 5 pounds of carrots in each winter share box, I couldn’t, there just isn’t the room. Those of you who get the winter share know what I mean. If we have 100 winter shares, I want to make sure that I’ve got 2000 pounds of carrots in the cooler to fill the bags. Since I’ve been planting more, it’s more likely that I’ve got 3,000 pounds, and consequently some extra available for sale. We’ve also had members request tomatoes for canning and bulk quantities of garlic. Therefore we’ve increased these in our planting schedule so that we can offer this to those who want it, but even so, our first priority is to the share boxes. In 2014 we planted almost 200 tomato plants intended for canners, but since we had a poor tomato year, everything went straight to the share boxes.

Sometimes we have such an overabundance of something that I feel bad about putting any more of it in the boxes. Cucumbers or squash are good examples of this, although we don’t often even offer these for sale. There is simply a limit to how much people want of some things and over the years I have tried to be respectful of that. The difficulty comes with one person who loves something and another who doesn’t care for it, case in point: our household can easily get through ten cucumbers a week but I don’t think that’s the norm. The number one reason that people do not renew their share is that they received too much produce and it went to waste. Ideally when we have these situations we can find a wholesale or food shelf outlet for the produce, but again, logistically it can be difficult.

We’re always experimenting. With 45 different crops and multiple varieties of each there are always new things going on in the field which may or may not make the cut. We also always plan to have more than we need of most things. If I want to make sure that I’ve got 175 heads of red leaf lettuce for Week 1, we will seed two 128-cell trays, and end up transplanting almost 250 transplants. In the field we may lose a few to the cultivator, or a million other things. After harvesting our 175 we may have twenty left over. If they’re not too mature they may hold in the field fine for Week 2, but if it’s going to be 90° all week, it’s either use them or lose them. This, again, is not something we’ve been in the habit of selling. I don’t feel a burning desire to make sure that every edible morsel in the field gets to a human, we have to feed the soil biology too.

We are fairly fussy about quality on our farm, you don’t simply get some of everything we’ve got. Funky carrots or radishes, cracked or bruised tomatoes do not meet our standards. Consequently we leave a lot of these in the field to go back to the earth. In the case of carrots or tomatoes there can be so many of them that they can be used for a higher purpose, and we’ll then offer them to the members. It is an extra effort to clean, pack and deliver this less-than-perfect produce, so we do ask for compensation for it. This seems a reasonable approach to me, because, honestly, it would be just easier for us to leave it in the field.

The notion that every member receives their fraction of everything produced on our farm is a compelling one. The CSA movement has used this for years as shorthand to describe the CSA model, but the reality is more complicated. The crop planning and timing is sophisticated to maintain a high level of consistent quality and variety throughout the growing season, and oftentimes over planting is insurance that we’ll have what we need, when we need it. We strive to be open and honest with our members about how we make these decisions, and want our members to know that we take your trust in us and our abilities very seriously. We also are always open to input and discussion, drop me an email if you have a comment. -David

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